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Christmas

[ kris-muhs ]
/ ˈkrɪs məs /
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noun

the annual festival of the Christian church commemorating the birth of Jesus: celebrated on December 25 and now generally observed as a legal holiday and, for many, an occasion for exchanging gifts.

adjective

of or relating to Christmas; made or displayed for Christmas: six batches of Christmas cookies;a Christmas movie for the whole family.

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Origin of Christmas

First recorded before 1050; Middle English cristmas(se); Old English Cristes mǣsse Mass of Christ
Christ·mas·sy, Christ·mas·y, adjectivepost-Christ·mas, adjectivepre-Christ·mas, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

VOCAB BUILDER

What does Christmas mean?

Christmas is a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians celebrate the holiday on December 25, but it is celebrated on January 7 in the Orthodox Church due to the use of a different calendar.

Christmas is also widely observed in secular (nonreligious) ways. Popular activities include the decoration of a Christmas tree and the exchange of gifts.

Most often, the word Christmas refers to Christmas Day—the day on which the holiday is observed, most commonly December 25. The day or evening before Christmas is called Christmas Eve.

Christmas is also often used to refer to the entire Christmas season, as in Even though it lasts for several weeks, Christmas always seems to go by so quickly. Another word for the Christmas season is Christmastime. Generally, the season begins around the beginning of December, though some people in the U.S. begin to decorate or engage in Christmas festivities immediately after the Thanksgiving holiday or even before. The Christmas season coincides with the “holiday season,” which in the U.S. is popularly understood to include Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. Due to its widespread observance, Christmas is one of the federal holidays in the U.S.

In religious terms, the Christmas season is sometimes considered to extend from Christmas Eve to the feast of the Epiphany or Twelfth Day on January 6. This period is sometimes called Christmastide, though this word can also be used in a more general way to refer to the period from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day.

The word Christmas is commonly used as a modifier in the names of many items and activities associated with the celebration of Christmas, as in Christmas cards, Christmas lights, Christmas shopping, Christmas cookies, Christmas carols, Christmas music, Christmas movies, Christmas stockings, and Christmas presents.

Traditional Christmas greetings include Merry Christmas and Happy Christmas (which is more popular in the U.K.).

By those who celebrate it, Christmas is often seen as a magical time that’s associated with a sense of hope and wonder and a feeling of festiveness. This is often what people are expressing when they describe something as Christmassy or say that they are in the Christmas spirit.

Example: This is Christmas, the season of perpetual hope!

Where does Christmas come from?

The first records of the word Christmas in English come from before 1050. It comes from the Old English Cristes mǣsse, meaning “Mass of Christ.” The word Christ means “anointed one” or “messiah” and is the title given to Jesus (as in Jesus Christ) by Christians due to their belief that he is the messiah who brings salvation. The words Christianity and Christian are based on the word Christ.

In the Middle Ages, the word mass referred to a religious feast day in honor of a specific person. This is what’s referred to by the ending -mas, which is used in the names of Christian holidays. By far the most well-known holiday that uses this ending is Christmas, but there are others, including Candlemas and Michaelmas.

The celebration of Christmas may date to around the year 200, but it did not become widespread as a holiday until much later, around the Middle Ages. Today, Christians often attend church on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Much of the religious observance of Christmas involves the story of Jesus’s birth in a stable in the town of Bethlehem. Some Christians set up Nativity scenes depicting the scene of Jesus’s birth, including figures of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in a manger. For many Christians, religious observation of Christmas is done alongside other secular aspects of the season, such as the exchange of gifts and Santa Claus.

This sometimes leads to criticism among Christians that Christmas has become too secularized and commercialized. The abbreviation Xmas, for example, is sometimes seen as inappropriate, perhaps due to its replacement of the name Christ or its widespread use in commercial contexts, such as in advertising. However, the X is Xmas isn’t an arbitrary placeholder. The abbreviation, which in fact dates back to at least the mid-1500s, uses X because it is the Greek letter chi, the initial letter in the Greek word Χριστός (Chrīstos), meaning “Christ.”

Other names for Christmas include Noel and Nativity, which are typically used in religious contexts. The word yule is sometimes used as another word for Christmas or Christmastime, but it is rooted in and is also used as a name for the celebration of the Winter Solstice that’s observed in some Pagan traditions. Some of these customs influenced the ways that Christmas is celebrated.

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How is Christmas used in real life?

Christmas is one of the most important Christian holidays, but it is also widely celebrated in nonreligious ways.

 

Try using Christmas!

True or False? 

All Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25.

British Dictionary definitions for Christmas

Christmas
/ (ˈkrɪsməs) /

noun

  1. the annual commemoration by Christians of the birth of Jesus Christ on Dec 25
  2. Also called: Christmas Day Dec 25, observed as a day of secular celebrations when gifts and greetings are exchanged
  3. (as modifier)Christmas celebrations
Also called: Christmas Day (in England, Wales and Ireland) Dec 25, one of the four quarter daysCompare Lady Day, Midsummer's Day, Michaelmas
Also called: Christmastide the season of Christmas extending from Dec 24 (Christmas Eve) to Jan 6 (the festival of the Epiphany or Twelfth Night)
Old English Crīstes mæsse Mass of Christ
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for Christmas

Christmas

A festival commemorating the birth of Jesus, traditionally celebrated on December 25 by most Western Christian churches. Although dating to probably as early as a.d. 200, the feast of Christmas did not become widespread until the Middle Ages. Today, Christmas is largely secularized and dominated by gifts, decorated trees, and a jolly Santa Claus.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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